Trends in Homicide:
What You Need to Know

December 2023


The Council on Criminal Justice’s mid-year crime trends report found that murders in 30 large American cities declined by 9.4% in the first half of 2023 compared to the first half of 2022. If this trend continues through the end of 2023, the nation will have experienced one of the largest single-year homicide reductions in the era of modern record keeping. CCJ’s full report on trends in homicide and other crimes will be released in January.

This brief, prepared for CCJ’s Crime Trends Working Group, explores data on homicide from multiple sources. It examines victimization by age, race, and sex, as well as changes in arrests, clearance rates, the victim-offender relationship, and other key measures. Drawing on Working Group presentations and conversations, the brief also explores possible explanations for the rise in homicide seen during the height of the pandemic and social justice protests of mid-2020, and, in most cities, its subsequent decline.

The recent decrease in murders is encouraging. But far more can and must be done to achieve lasting reductions in homicide and other violent crime. Government agencies and community organizations are testing myriad approaches. CCJ’s Task Force on Policing and Violent Crime Working Group highlighted numerous evidence-based strategies and reforms to improve law enforcement, increase police collaboration with community organizations, and strengthen the overall effectiveness of violence reduction efforts. Multiple jurisdictions have drawn on this guidance. And, in December, the U.S. Department of Justice released a violence reduction “roadmap” based on the Ten Essential Actions framework produced by the Violent Crime Working Group. The roadmap organizes the department’s grant programs, training and technical assistance, and other resources by the ten action steps; the Police Executive Research Forum will assist jurisdictions seeking to implement the recommended strategies.


  • The U.S. homicide rate began to trend upward in 2015 after a long-running decline. After reaching a peak in 2021, it remained 24% higher in a sampling of 30 cities in the first half of 2023 than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • People aged 15 to 19 years old were three times more likely to die by homicide in 2020-2021 than in 1960.

  • Black males were eight times more likely and Black females were four times more likely to die by homicide in 2020-2021 than their White counterparts.
  • Arrests of Black adults for homicide dropped 65% from 1980 to 2020, but Black people were six times more likely to be arrested for homicide in 2020 than White people.

  • Since 2020, more than three-quarters of homicides have been committed with guns. This marks an increase from 1980 to 1990, when firearms were used in fewer than two-thirds of reported homicides.

  • The homicide clearance rate has dropped steadily since the 1960s. In 2022, the clearance rate was about 50%, meaning that just half of murders resulted in an arrest and fewer than half resulted in a conviction.


Monthly Homicide Rates in 32 Cities

Source: Data adapted from Crime Trends in. U.S. Cities: Mid-Year 2023 Update. See the report for the list of cities.

Homicide rates spiked by 57% from April to July 2020 in a sample of 32 American cities. By the end of 2021, rates were an average of 39% higher than in 2019. The average rate began receding in 2022 but was still 18% higher in 2023 than in 2019. The homicide rate in the sample cities fell by 10% from 2022 to 2023.

Homicide Rates, 1960-2022

Sources: 1960-1978: The Disaster Center. (2019). United States crime rates 1960-2019; 1979-2022: Federal Bureau of Investigation. (n.d.). Crime data explorer.

The U.S. homicide rate peaked in 1980 at 10.2 per 100,000 people. After falling then rising to another peak in 1991, the rate dropped to a low in 2014 similar to levels in the mid-1960s. An upward trend began in 2015, however, and homicide increased by 30% from 2019 to 2020, the largest single-year increase since 1960. After a small increase in 2021, the rate decreased 9% in 2022 to 6.3 per 100,000 people.

Homicide Victimization by Age Group

Sources: 1960-2016: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Table 29; 2017-2021: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Underlying cause of death.

Homicide victimization for all age groups has increased since 1960. While those between the ages of 20 and 24 remain the most likely group to die by homicide, the rate of victimization for those between the ages of 15 and 19 was three times higher in 2020-21 than it was in 1960.

Homicide Victimization by Race and Sex

Sources: 1960-2016: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Table 29; 2017-2021: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Underlying cause of death.

The rate of homicide victimization for Black males was more than eight times higher than for White males in 2020-2021. Black female rates were four times higher than rates for White females for 2020-2021.

Homicide Arrests by Race

Source: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (n.d.). Statistical briefing book. National arrest rates are unavailable from the FBI or OJJDP for 2021-2022.

The homicide arrest rate of Black adults fell by 65% from the 1980s to 2020, the largest decrease seen among these four groups. In 2020, Black adults and juveniles remained six times more likely to be arrested for homicide than White adults and juveniles.

Homicides Committed with Firearms

Sources: 1980-2020: Puzzanchera et al. (2021). Easy Access to the FBI's supplementary homicide reports: 1980-2020; 2021-2022: Federal Bureau of Investigation. (n.d.). Crime data explorer.

In 2021, 78% of homicides were committed with a firearm, the highest proportion since 1980. In the 1980s, the share of homicides committed with a gun hovered around 60%, compared to 70% between 2010 to 2019.

Homicide Clearance Rate

Unknown circumstances and victim-offender relationships make it harder for detectives to solve murder cases, and vice versa: lower case clearance rates make it harder to determine circumstances and relationships. The homicide clearance rate declined 9% in 2020, continuing a downward trend that began in the 1960s. In 2022, the clearance rate was at about 50%, meaning that just half of murders resulted in an arrest and fewer than half result in a conviction.

Victim-Offender Relationship

Sources: 1980-2020: Puzzanchera, C., Chamberlin, G., and Kang, W. (2021). Easy Access to the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports: 1980-2020; 2021: Federal Bureau of Investigation. (n.d.). Crime data explorer. NIBRS 2021 (Table 16); 2022: Federal Bureau of Investigation. (n.d.). Crime data explorer. CIUS 2022 (Table 10).

The relationship between victims and offenders also has become increasingly unclear in recent years. The share of unknown relationships spiked in the early 1990s and remained above 40% until 2015. From 2015 through 2022, police were unable to determine the relationship between victims and offenders in more than 50% of cases.

Notes: Less common homicide circumstances are excluded in the chart; as a result, percentages do not total to 100%. Data come only from law enforcement agencies that reported at least six months of data for a given year. Due to missing unknown circumstances data, the graph begins in 1985.

The circumstances surrounding homicides have become less clear over time. The share of homicides with an “unknown” circumstance doubled from 22% in 1985 to 43% in 2022. In cases where the circumstances were reported, about 15% of homicides over that period were “felony homicides,” or killings committed during the course of another offense, such as robbery, rape, or drug trafficking. The peak felony homicide rate of about 20% came during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic from 1989 to 1992. According to police reports, felony homicides accounted for 10% of murders in 2020 and 7% of murders in 2022. The share of homicides attributed to “arguments” steadily declined over the period, from 33% in 1985 to 22% in 2022, a decrease of one third.

*Analyses that use data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System should be viewed with caution due to the low number of reporting agencies. Click here for additional information.


In August, the Crime Trends Working Group discussed the recent trends in homicide and possible explanations for the 2020 spike and the decline that followed. The discussion was summarized in a subsequent bulletin, and members provided additional comments on the data presented above. Proposed explanations shared by members included:


As 2023 draws to a close, members of CCJ's Crime Trends Working Group shared perspectives on current homicide trends.

“Much of the rise in homicide is directly tied to COVID – from young people being isolated from social supports and being confined in volatile neighborhoods to a crisis in police staffing. While these incendiary conditions have softened, little has changed about the risks that lead to violence in historically disadvantaged places. Homicide rates will likely continue to fall to pre-pandemic levels but are unlikely to fall any further until the underlying risk conditions improve.”

JOHN ROMAN (CHAIR), Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Public Safety and Justice, NORC at the University of Chicago 

“Something that is challenging to measure but important to understand is the degree to which a range of interventions … implemented in response to rising homicide contributed to its decline. Many cities implemented violence reduction plans as rates rose, and it’s important to investigate how effective those plans were as one of many factors that led to a reduction in homicides.”

RUTH ABAYA, Senior Director, Health Systems and CVI Integration, The Health Alliance for Violence Prevention

“Homicide rates are dropping, and that's very good news. That said, we still need aggressive action to save even more lives. Despite the decline, the U.S. remains a bloody outlier among wealthy nations concerning homicide and other serious violent crime."

THOMAS ABT, Senior Fellow and Violent Crime Working Group Chair, CCJ; Founding Director, Violent Crime Reduction Center, University of Maryland

"The most likely explanation for homicide – and, more specifically, gun violence – falling is the pandemic fading to the background of everyday life for most Americans. The pandemic may not have been the driving factor behind the surge in murder in 2020, but the surge was likely exacerbated by the stresses of the pandemic, lack of government and non-profit intervention programming, and historic gun sales that accompanied the pandemic's onset."

JEFF ASHER, Co-Founder, AH Datalytics

"COVID-19 exposed the nation to the harms systemic racism, inequitable policies, and decades of economic disinvestment have on our most marginalized communities, specifically majority Black neighborhoods. Mandated stay-at-home orders led to decreased access to services and support ... The lack of resources to communities with pre-existing constraints compounded the distress for our most vulnerable residents, who generally experience higher rates of trauma."

DELRICE ADAMS, Executive Director, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority


In response to the rise in violent crime, CCJ launched a Violent Crime Working Group in July 2021. Composed of a diverse range of leaders, the Group dedicated itself to saving lives by producing anti-violence guidance that is timely, relevant, and reliable. The Group met 11 times, consulted with other leading experts, produced three reports on national crime trends, held two live public web events, and issued seven bulletins highlighting its key findings and featuring concrete recommendations to improve policy and practice in this critical area. The Group was chaired by CCJ Senior Fellow Thomas Abt, who is now founding director of the Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In its final report, the Group identified Ten Essential Actions that cities can take now to reduce community gun violence. This list is not comprehensive; instead, it highlights the actions members thought to be the most likely to make the greatest immediate impact on violence.

Listed in roughly sequential order, the actions are short-term measures that can be carried out within a year, typically without new legislation or enormous expenditures. The Group made clear the actions are not a substitute for longer-term strategies and investments that can address poverty, inequality, racism, and other underlying systemic causes of crime and violence.

As noted above, in December the U.S. Department of Justice released a violence reduction “roadmap” based on the Ten Essential Actions framework. The roadmap organizes the department’s grant programs, training and technical assistance, and other resources by the ten action steps; the Police Executive Research Forum was selected to assist jurisdictions seeking to implement the recommended strategies.

Ten Essential Actions Cities Can Take to Reduce Violence Now

State and Federal Support

Most anti-violence efforts happen at the local level, but state and federal support are key to help cities succeed in their front-line anti-violence campaigns. States and the federal government can support the essential actions outlined above through messaging and convening, grantmaking and fiscal incentives, regulation and legislation, and through the direct actions of certain agencies.

  • Help cities set the right goals. Prioritizing violence reduction can be politically difficult for local leaders seeking to portray their cities as safe and healthy places to live, work, and raise families. State and federal leaders can encourage their local counterparts with clear messaging as well as fiscal incentives for doing what is necessary, not politically expedient. This means emphasizing clear anti-violence goals, evidence-informed strategies, and partnership between law enforcement and community groups.
  • Support evidence-backed strategies, workforce development, and technical assistance while also investing in innovation. Most state and federal dollars invested in local violence reduction efforts should fund proven strategies and the capacity building and training needed to sustain and expand those strategies. At the same time, resources must be made available for localities to pursue or enhance promising or emerging approaches to reducing violence. Also key is support for improving the quality and quantity of relevant data and research as well as peer-to-peer learning through convenings and information-sharing networks.
  • Align state and federal actions with local anti-violence priorities. For state and federal agencies that work directly on anti-violence issues, aligning activities with local efforts is essential. State probation and parole agencies can create specialized caseloads to better supervise and support high-risk individuals, the FBI and U.S. Attorneys can coordinate with local law enforcement to incapacitate persistently violent individuals and groups, and health, labor, education, and other non-enforcement agencies can similarly focus their resources. A coherent, whole-of-government approach that identifies and engages the key people and places driving local violence is the goal.